Caring for Patients in the ICU

Angela Peterson

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across the nation have come together to protect those most vulnerable to the virus by following public health precautions. For these vulnerable populations – the elderly and individuals with underlying health conditions – the effects of COVID-19 can be severe, resulting in the need to seek high-level care in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

ICUs across the nation have experienced an influx of patients, a shortage of trained staff, long hours, and exhaustion. Mercy’s ICU is no different. Staffed by a highly-trained and specialized team, Mercy’s ICU prides itself on providing whole person care – mind, body and spirit – to every patient and their loved ones.

“One thing that has been hard on our staff, is we pride ourselves on taking care of the whole person,” explained Angela Peterson, clinical nurse manager of Critical Care at Mercy (which includes ICU, TCU and Telemetry). “Part of providing that whole person care is building close relationships with the friends and families of our patients.”

Since the onset of the pandemic in the U.S., Mercy, like most hospitals across the nation, has restricted visitors to COVID-19 patients as an extra measure of safety for staff, patients and the community. Because of these visitor restrictions, Mercy’s ICU team has not had the same opportunities to build these valuable relationships.

“In the past, we have depended on the patients’ loved ones to share our patients’ stories with us,” said Angela who has been a critical care RN at Mercy since 2008. “Now we must try and make these connections over the phone and with very limited time. It’s been very morally de-stressing for our nurses.”

The inability to visit loved ones in person can be very isolating for both the patient and their families. Mercy’s ICU staff works hard to provide comfort and reassurance to both the patient and family and help to ease feelings of isolation and worry.

“We reach out to the families and ensure them that we are taking care of their loved one as if they were family,” Angela said. “It’s our job and duty to take care of our communities as we would a member of our family.”

Though the medical community has improved the care and treatment of COVID-19, these patients are often still in the ICU for weeks at a time, sedated and intubated. In comparison, on average, patients without COVID-19 spend three to four days in the ICU.

To fill in the loss of time a patient experiences when sedated, Mercy’s ICU nurses keep a journal for patients, noting milestones (such as getting out of bed for the first time) as well as other daily occurrences. Angela explained that reading these entries can help patients deal with the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often suffered by ICU patients further into their recovery.

The ICU team also helps patients visit virtually with loved ones, facilitating Zoom, Facetime and phone conversations. “The daughter of one of our patients sings to her father while a nurse holds the phone to his ear,” Angela stated. “Moments like these are so meaningful to everyone involved.”

Maintaining the high-level of care this team holds themselves to has led to members of the team taking on extra shifts and, in some instances, working 15-hour days. Without hesitation, staff from across Mercy has rallied around their ICU colleagues taking on additional shifts in the ICU.

“We are so incredibly grateful for Mercy nurses from the Emergency Department, Flight For Life® Colorado, operating room, and more, who have supported our staff by working in the ICU,” Angela said. “The way everyone has come together to provide staff and support us brings tears to my eyes.”

Angela encourages our community to remain diligent in following public health precautions – washing hands frequently, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing.

“We are all part of this community – I was born and raised in Durango,” said Angela. “It’s hard to see community members we care about coming into the ICU because of COVID-19.”

“Please, help us help you,” Angela added. “Stay safe. We don’t want to see anybody in this situation.”